Drawing from their personal experiences with drug abuse and their deep faith in God, three Molokaʻi-born sisters recently launched the Molokaʻi Drug-Free Movement. Their dream is to help families recover and heal from a drug epidemic that has gripped their island home.
Sisters ʻAla Haliniak-Kali, Barbara Momikai Haliniak, and Amber Kaholoaʻa saw a need to bring their community together to address one of Molokaʻi’s most concerning issues – drug addiction.
“It is a huge problem that we need to deal with,” said Kaholoaʻa. The sisters’ passion comes from their daily struggles with the impacts of drug abuse. Haliniak has been sober for nearly a year, Kaholoaʻa has been sober for almost three years, and Haliniak-Kali watched the people around her deteriorate from abuse.
Tragically, a drug-addicted young mother and friend recently committed suicide. “You think there’s nothing out there, but there are people who care,” said Kaholoaʻa.
The idea for the Molokaʻi Drug-Free Movement originally came from Haliniak after her own five-year struggle with drug addiction. “Her children were taken away and she found herself living house to house with other drug addicts and ended up living on the streets,” said Gayla Haliniak, Barbara’s mother.
“She came back to Molokaʻi on her own and started her treatment at Ka Hale Pōmaikaʻi. She started attending parenting classes, landed two jobs and found a home of her own. She worked hard to get her ﬁve children back in her household.”
Barbara Momikai Haliniak knew her family loved her and wanted to support her. “It was me that didn’t want their help; I let the drugs come ﬁrst in my life,” she said. “When I came home to Molokaʻi, I saw a lot of young people who were drug-addicted – family and friends that I knew were walking the streets with mental health issues that came from drug addiction. It’s painful to see – and I was one of them on Oʻahu. When I started my sober journey, I reached out to my sisters, to start a drug-free movement for our people who are struggling with addiction and overcoming generational curses.”
The sisters and their extended family pooled their resources to put together the first Molokaʻi Drug-Free Movement event on May 7, 2022. About 400 people attended the event which featured guest speakers from Oʻahu and Las Vegas, including Augie T, Terann Pavao, Derricka Lindsey, Mana Olayan, Kehau Manijo, and Shay Santiago. Resource agencies set up information tables and offered their kōkua, while island businesses donated door prizes.
“Those children who live within the homes of drug users – they have nobody to talk to,” said Haliniak-Kali. “We wanted to let them – kids and adults – know we’re here to talk. We’re here to help you get by. We know what you’ve been through. We’re here to listen. Period.”
Though she never used drugs herself, Haliniak-Kali has been surrounded by drug use her entire life. She described herself as the “enabler” in her family, the person who picked up the pieces that addiction left behind.
The women speak bluntly about their experiences, and this realness is what helps their message get through.
“Yes, our guest speakers [at the event] were kind of rough around the edges, but that’s real,” said Haliniak-Kali. “We don’t need to hear about D.A.R.E. We don’t need to hear from professionals who studied drug abuse and say, ‘don’t do drugs, stay in school.’ We need to hear about real-life experiences – like how girls get raped, beaten, and used for the dope. How people go to jail and get beaten for the dope. How people steal from other family members for the dope. That’s the truth.”
The group’s future plans include hosting an ʻohana campout in September, creating a ministry for women, and establishing a small detox center on the island. Having a place for people to detox on Molokaʻi, where they can be supported by their culture and community, is important to recovery, Haliniak-Kali said. “To be here at home, you still feel culturally rooted, you still feel morally rooted,” she said. “Molokaʻi people are built diﬀerently.”
The movement is not only about events and resources but also about changing attitudes and leading by example, Kaholoaʻa said. Part of the reason why so many people donʻt reach out for help is because they were taught to tough out their way through problems. So many kids, including herself and her siblings, were raised with a fighting attitude – you give and you get “lickins.” She said that “hard mentality” is not helping anyone.
“Our goal is to help more families, get families involved in our movement, and to get these families to teach other families,” Haliniak-Kali said. “We want to get the kids to teach other kids to show each other love.”
For more information about the Molokai Drug-Free Movement, email firstname.lastname@example.org.